“For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the Earth.’” Acts 13:47 / Isaiah 49:6
What’s Going On? / When and Where Are We? / Who’s Who?
Paul wrote the next four letters as a way to keep in touch with the new Christians in places he had already visited. Often, he is responding to specific questions or concerns from the leaders in these newly established “churches” which were really nothing like the churches we think of today. They were more likely home groups where believers formed communities and would gather to support each other in their faith. Paul would visit a place and preach the Gospel message, most likely in the format that we read in the letter to the Romans which was written to a people he had not met yet. He would train up leaders, and then move on to a new place. He stayed in touch with these new leaders and would guide them as concerns arose. So, many of these letters are his response to letters written to him where the leaders were looking for guidance in a specific situation. If your Bible has subheadings within the chapters, think of these like bullet points as he addresses specific issues. While Galatians was probably one of the first letters written, about 48 AD, the other three letters were all written about 60 AD while Paul awaited his trial in Rome.
Galatians – This letter was written by Paul to the people of Galatia, which would include Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe in central Turkey, all churches that Paul founded on his first missionary journey that we read about in Acts 13-14. Paul taught that faith and repentance were all that was needed for salvation, but apparently others were teaching that new believers must be circumcised and follow Jewish laws and customs. You may remember that there was a huge meeting that addressed these issues in Acts 15 – the Council at Jerusalem. This letter was likely written before that event when there were still many unanswered questions. Paul’s views differed from those of Peter, who stayed in Jerusalem and founded the church for Jewish converts who were unsure about how to incorporate their new beliefs with their old traditions. Paul believed that faith trumped works and the Old Testament Law, which was ultimately fulfilled through Christ, was not required for new Gentile believers. Don’t worry, while Peter seems to be opposed to Paul, they are actually more on the same page than it appears. We’ll hear more from Peter later.
Ephesians – Paul had visited Ephesus on both his second and third missionary journeys. Since there is no specific recipient and this letter, unlike the others, does not seem to address a specific question, it’s entirely possible that this letter was circulated throughout many of the early churches as encouragement and general instruction about Christian unity and Godly conduct. This is one of the few places that addresses spiritual warfare and teaches the believer how to stand against the strategies of the enemy.
Philippians – Philippi was a Roman colony in northern Greece and was one of the main cities of Mesopotamia. Paul visited there on his second missionary journey and the Philippian people had supported Paul while he was in Thessalonica and Corinth later in that journey. Luke had accompanied Paul and Silas there and stayed behind when the others left. The theme of the letter seems to be encouragement, in addition to several personal messages.
Colossians –Epaphras was the founder of the church in Colosse in Asia Minor (Turkey) and had gone to Rome to visit Paul with some questions and concerns of heresy within the church. This letter addresses some of the common – and false – teachings that were circulating during the early years of the church. Paul gives specific examples of Christian conduct and instructions for carrying them out. Paul insists that Christ’s preeminence was not to be questioned but was sufficient and required the response of holiness by His followers. Later we’ll meet Philemon, who is from Colosse.
“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” Acts 28:30-31
Weekly Reading Assignment:
- Monday: Galatians 1-4
- Tuesday: Galatians 5-6
- Wednesday: Ephesians 1-3
- Thursday: Ephesians 4-6
- Friday: Philippians 1-4
- Saturday: Colossians 1-4